18 ballads in Lisbon, but Bulgaria is a case of doubt

Steef van Gorkum

Following up on his successful study into the role of ballads in Eurovision, ESCDaily’s chief editor Steef van Gorkum takes a look at this year’s entries. With the help of a 7-member expert panel he concludes that we will hear 18 ballads in Lisbon. However, Bulgaria’s song “Bones” is one that’s very tough to classify.

Studying eight subsequent editions, Steef van Gorkum was able to establish two golden rules about the role of ballads in the Eurovision Song Contest. First, in every Eurovision semi final there is room for 3-5 ballads to qualify; never more than 5, never less than 3. Second, a ballad can only win the Eurovision Song Contest when there are less than 40% ballads participating in the Grand Final.

On the basis of this second rule, Van Gorkum was able to predict at a very early stage that not Italy, but Portugal or Bulgaria would win Eurovision 2017.

“Analyzing genres in general, and ballads in particular, is a good way of predicting the Eurovision Song Contest. My research from last year has made me believe in that even more. In order to be able to do the same this year, the first thing I needed to do was classify the songs. For that, I used a methodology very similar to last year.


I have conducted a panel of seven people, including radio DJ’s, Eurovision experts and a music teacher at Conservatorium van Amsterdam. They were asked to categorize all 43 songs in this year’s competition as either a ballad or a non-ballad.

On the basis of their answers, I was able to categorize songs as “red” (non ballad), “green” (ballad), or in some cases “blue”. This blue category contains songs that were classified by most as a ballad, however where several panel members made side comments. Such as “this is more of a jazz song, but rather a ballad than not” (Latvia) or “this is a ballad, but with a clear ethnic touch” (Greece).

34 of the 43 songs had a unanimous 7-0 outcome. Four songs were 6-1 and four songs were 5-2. There was only one song where the votes came out 4-3: Bulgaria, where a tiny majority was in favour of “Bones” being a ballad. Counting last year’s more intensive research into the years 2009 – 2017, this is the first time a song has ever divided opinions this much.

Not that many ballads in Eurovision 2018

Altogether, there are 18 ballads this year in a 43 song field. That is 41,8%, slightly lower than last year but all in all very common for a Eurovision Song Contest. We have had many ballads in 2015, and very few in 2011, 2014 and 2016. However, most years stay very close to the 40% mark.”